“Lord, as years go by, I fear the yoke of sickness and pain and I worry how my life will end. And so I humbly ask you, Lord, that when my time comes to leave this life, do not call me by sudden death, Not by accident that tears the body apart, Not by illness that leaves the mind confused, Or the senses impaired; Not at the mercy of evil forces; Not with a heart full of hate or a body racked with pain; Not abandoned, lonely, without love or care; Not by my own hand in a moment of despair. My dear Lord Jesus, let death come as a gentle friend to sit and linger with me until you call my name.”
This prayer for a happy death summarizes a Catholic Filipino’s fears and acceptance of death as the will of God. The bereaved family finds consolation in believing that death is the end of all pain and suffering and the entry into eternal life. Still, the death of a loved one always comes with grief and distress for family members. For the survivors who are not prepared to meet the cost of funeral and other related expenses, the grief is multiplied with added worries over financial obligations. They are faced with many decisions regarding a burial plot and casket, church and funeral services, wakes and internment.
To avoid these last minute decisions when bereaved family members are most vulnerable to unscrupulous agents who make extra dollars out of bereavement, many Filipinos in Canada have taken advantage of advance planning for their demise, offered by many funeral homes. They do this through pre-need funeral plans to lessen the burden for their spouses and children. This includes a predetermined selection of all funeral services up to the internment.
A Catholic Funeral Service
In Vancouver, the internment of the dead is done in privately owned or church operated cemeteries and memorial parks. There are four such Catholic cemeteries in the Greater Vancouver area: The Garden of Gethsemane in South Surrey, St. Peter’s in New Westminster, St. Mary’s Cemetery in Chilliwack, and Our Lady of Good Hope Cemetery in Hope, BC.
The Roman Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Vancouver (RCCAV) are responsible for administering Catholic cemetery operations. Catholic cemeteries offer burial space and refer parishioners to selected funeral homes for services so that complete needs are covered.
The Gardens of Gethsemani is the only Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in the Lower Mainland. It provides in-ground burial plots, mausoleum crypts and cremation niches both indoor and outdoor. The Cemetery is regularly open from dawn to dusk but on November 1 and November 2, it stays open late to give families more time to visit. However, there are no all-day or all-night vigils in this cemetery. On November 1 and November 2, Masses are held throughout the day in the chapel. The cemetery pathways are lined with brightly-lit 1,000 battery-operated lights. Candles are available for sale to put on the graves.
In all Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the fee for funeral services including mass and internment is $200. There are additional charges for the choir and altar servers if needed. Personal donation to the priest by the family is voluntary.
On the day of the funeral, the body is received at the entrance of the church with prayers and blessings by the priest. The casket is then brought close to the paschal candle at the altar while the choir is singing. If a eulogy is requested, it is given by one or two members of the family, limited to three minutes each before the start of the Mass or after the Mass. After the communion and the final commendation, the casket is brought to the hearse and started on its way to the cemetery. The priest or deacon accompanies the casket in the hearse for the graveyard service that includes prayers and the blessing of the departed before the actual burial.
Father Amador Abundo, the pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Delta who has served the Archdiocese of Vancouver since 1997, has officiated many funeral Masses and services for Filipinos. Every year, on All Saints and All Soul’s Day on November 1 and November 2 respectively, he is invited by Filipinos to pray and bless the graves of their loved ones in various cemeteries. He is familiar with the customs and traditions of the dead both in the Philippines and Canada.
In Canada, Filipino Catholics normally hold a nine-day novena for the dead starting a day after the demise. The prayers and viewing of the body in the funeral home usually last for one or two nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. In the Philippines, especially in the provinces, Lamay or all-day and all-night vigil is held in the home of the deceased so relatives and friends can come and pay their respects. Throughout the lamay, guests quietly play mah jong and card games with the proceeds from the bets given to the family as donations to help pay for the funeral expenses. This is not done in Canada although some funeral homes would accommodate a lamay tradition, but without gambling, on request by the family.
In Canada, it is normal for relatives and friends to give flowers, sympathy cards with money enclosed and donate food for the reception. Prayers for the dead at the funeral home during the wake are led by a priest or pastor. The following day, a funeral Mass is celebrated in a church followed by the internment. No Mass is allowed in a funeral home.
A Mass or special prayers for the dead are held in a church on the 40th day of the death to honour the departed. This memorial service on the 40th day of death is a tradition based on the belief that the souls of the dead still wander in this natural world for 40 days before going to their final or transitory supernatural realm. Most Filipinos are Catholics by upbringing but even families who do not go to church regularly or who are not strongly religious fall back on Catholic traditions at the time of death. Once a death has occurred, it is considered very important for the deceased to be blessed by a priest to ensure that he or she gets to heaven.